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If you're like most Ohioans, the holiday season finds you rushing around shopping, planning family gatherings, decorating, preparing holiday meals and much more. It is a very busy time of the year, and to get everything done and enjoy the season, many of us often put our everyday responsibilities and priorities on hold. However, for Ohio's 1.3 million caregivers whose responsibilities are constant regardless of what month the calendar says it is, taking a holiday simply isn't an option. That's where you come in.
Caregiving is not an easy job. The daily demands of caregiving can take a toll on even the strongest of heart. Between 40 and 70 percent of caregivers show clinically significant symptoms of depression, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. The signs of caregiver stress mimic the symptoms of depression and include sleeping problems, feeling tired most of the time, loss of interest in activities, becoming easily irritated and physical problems like headaches or stomach aches.
If you have someone in your family who provides care for another family member or a friend, there are things you can do this holiday season to make their life easier and help them and the person they care for better enjoy the celebrations. The most important thing you can do is recognize the enormous responsibility that caregiving is and that changes to routines can be very stressful to a caregiver. Help her and her care recipient stay connected to family and experience the holiday celebration in ways that don't add to her stress.
Invite her to your holiday gathering, but do not pressure her to attend and do not be offended if she doesn't. The logistics of taking her care recipient out of the home can be very complicated, and it can be equally difficult for her to find a temporary caregiver to give her time to go out alone. If she decides to come and bring her care recipient, ask in advance about dietary needs and any accommodations that will make the visit more comfortable for both of them.
Alternately, offer to sit in for her and take over her duties for a night so that she can attend someone else's party, go shopping or just unwind and enjoy the season. If you have the resources to do so, hire a home care worker to provide a break so that you can accompany her and help her have fun and unwind.
Offer to help with her holiday shopping. Take her and her care recipient shopping or ask her to create a list for you to go get. Better yet, offer to sit down with her at a computer and help her shop online.
Let her know how much you appreciate what she is doing. A simple thank-you can go a long way. Or consider buying her a gift - one that she can use to pamper herself, such as a spa gift certificate (again, with the promise of giving her a break from caregiving so that she can enjoy it).
Though it seems like a no-brainer, it bears stating: don't criticize her care of her loved one and don't discuss the care recipient's health status unless she brings it up. Even then, be supportive and non-judgmental. Look for cues that she may be getting frustrated, depressed or experiencing caregiver burn-out, and ask how, not if, you can help.
Another way you can support a caregiver is to help her connect with supportive services. As many as one in four caregivers could benefit from caregiver support programs, but only about one in 10 actually access them - mostly because they are unaware that help is available. Your area agency on aging can help you connect the caregiver with supportive services, provide individual counseling, facilitate support groups and caregiver training and organize respite care for temporary relief from caregiving responsibilities. Call 1-866-243-5678 to be connected to the agency serving your community.